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John Lamb, Published September 14 2013

White haus redone: German Realtor tackles 1916 dwelling

FARGO - Dirk Ockhardt recalls how friends cautioned him against buying the house in which he now lives.

The 1916 farmhouse-style dwelling was being rented by five college students who didn’t exactly make it look inviting to a potential buyer.

But underneath all the dirty laundry and juvenile posters, Ockhardt saw the bones of a building that had warmth and charm all of its own.

He bought the house and closed on April 1, 2009.

“I chose the date because it would be the best joke ever, or….” he says, trailing off.

The inside shows that Ockhardt ended up the one left smiling. After four years of work, the end of his home renovation is in sight. That he did most of the work himself makes it a more significant accomplishment.

He recalls how friends warned him the house could be a money pit but felt confident he could tackle most of the projects.

“Ach. I can do anything here. It’s all made of wood,” says the Germany native. “It’s all logical, especially in a wood house. It’s like building blocks. In Germany, it’s all masonry.”

Gone are the remnants of a college party house, the fake wood paneling, the fake brick paneling, both replaced by the crisp, white space and simple design that remind Ockhardt of his native country.

“I color (the rooms) with art,” Ockhardt says of his fondness for white walls, showing off a number of pieces by Moritz Goetze, a friend and German artist who had a show at the Rourke Art Museum last fall. “It pops out more dramatic. The hardwood floors have so much more warmth with the color.”

Resurfacing the old maple floors was one of the first things on his list and one of the few things he had professionals do.

“I love squeaking floors. It reminds me of home,” he says, having a coffee at his living room table.

They also reflect the natural light spilling through the 11 new windows Ockhardt installed (with help), adding window sills where he could, using them as a display space.

In the master bedroom the sill functions as a nightstand, a handy built-in for the homeowner who doesn’t like the clutter of over-furnished rooms.

“I always miss (window sills) in homes of new construction,” says Ockhardt, a Realtor.

The sunlight makes the 1,200-square-foot abode appear much bigger. He uses other methods where sunlight doesn’t shine.

The 35-year-old closed off a walkthrough from the kitchen to the front door and used the 3-by-5-foot space for a guest bathroom. He saved space with a wall-mounted, efficient European toilet with the tank inside the wall. Similarly he used a sleek 14-inch sink sunk into an adjoining wall to give more room to the cramped quarters. A mirror on the back wall creates the illusion of added depth.

“No one foresaw this,” he says proudly.

Ockhardt takes pride in replacing 350 feet of copper piping throughout the house and completely renovating what was an overused and abused main bathroom upstairs.

Gone is the old, dirty tub and the wall built to house the shower head. The wall obstructed light from a nearby window, so Ockhardt replaced the barrier with glass and used a shower head with a hose, mounted on the adjoining wall.

He replaced the linoleum that was duct-taped together with wood flooring and put in a new vanity and tiling around the tub.

While the bathroom is finished, what he thought would take three weeks stretched into three months.

The shower fixture he ordered from Germany didn’t align with standard American plumbing fittings.

“It was a pain in the butt. It took me forever to hook it up,” he says. “It was stupid on my part.”

While he saved money doing the work himself, he also saved by being a thrifty shopper and a creative problem-solver.

Wanting a semi-permanent divider between the kitchen and dining room, he salvaged a stretched canvas and mounted it on tracks like a sliding barn door.

Rather than taking down walls to the studs, he screwed the sheet rock onto the existing surface, then taped, mudded and sanded them himself.

“Why get rid of that layer of insulation?” he says of his decision to add another layer instead. “I don’t know why they think you have to take everything down in remodeling an old home.”

He also didn’t understand why some outlets and switches were located in certain spots, so he moved some, doing his own wiring.

“It’s all logic. It’s not rocket science to put in an outlet. It’s just two wires and two screws,” he says.

He got a crash-course in soldering but otherwise watched YouTube videos for steps on plumbing.

Some projects remain on the to-do list. He wants a new, bigger refrigerator and a cooking hood and vent now that he has painted and tiled the kitchen.

The final step will be restoring the porch, which was haphazardly enclosed to save heat. The side-effect was cutting down on the natural light coming through the big front window.

“It was not a fixer-upper; it was used,” Ockhardt says of the state he found the house in. “No one saw the potential.”

As a Realtor, he knows he could’ve found a place that would’ve taken less work, but he liked the location in what he calls north Fargo’s “mature” Horace Mann neighborhood, just a 12-minute walk from his office downtown.

The location is right and so is the layout, both functionally and philosophically.

“I need a second level to walk up and leave the day behind,” he says of the two-story home.

Since he’s afraid of heights, however, he had someone else redo his roof.

Now that the project is nearing its finish, he says his sweat equity has paid off.

“All you need is time. If you have a good timeline, you can tackle anything,” he says. “It’s good we have long winters here, because I need a project.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533